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Jailed reporter’s testimony now unnecessary in criminal trial

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Jailed reporter's testimony now unnecessary in criminal trial 11/01/94 OHIO -- In mid-October, a Trumbull County judge in Warren cancelled…

OHIO — In mid-October, a Trumbull County judge in Warren cancelled a subpoena ordering a reporter to testify in a criminal trial. Lisa Abraham had served jail time for refusing to testify before a grand jury in the same case.

Mark Weist, Trumbull County Common Pleas Court visiting judge, said Abraham’s testimony would not be needed in the criminal trial because another witness had testified on the same subject, according to the Associated Press. Weist told AP that forcing Abraham to testify would be redundant and constitute harassment.

Abraham, a reporter with the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, was imprisoned in the Trumbull County Jail for civil contempt for more than three weeks in January and February 1994 because she refused to testify before a grand jury investigating James Fiorenzo, a county engineer whom she had interviewed.

Abraham wrote an article following a June 1993 interview with Fiorenzo about his $25,000 office renovation in which she attributed statements to Fiorenzo that contradicted statements in a press release he subsequently issued. In October 1993, a grand jury investigating the office renovation subpoenaed Abraham to testify about the interview. While Ohio has a reporter’s shield law, it only protects the media from disclosing confidential sources of information.

In November 1993, a court found Abraham in civil contempt for refusing to testify to the grand jury and rejected her claim of qualified privilege under the First Amendment. Later that month, the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision, and in January 1994 the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the case. After Abraham still refused to testify, the trial court ordered her jailed until she complied.

She was released from jail in early February 1994 after the grand jury had completed its investigation, and returned to work at the Tribune Chronicle.

In connection with the renovation, Fiorenzo is facing criminal charges of theft in office, unlawful interest in a contract, complicity to theft in office, tampering with records and four counts of forgery, according to AP.

Abraham told AP she was “overjoyed” with Judge Weist’s October decision that her testimony was not necessary for Fiorenzo’s criminal trial.

(State v. Fiorenzo; Media Counsel: Charles Richards)

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.